3 years ago

Plastic rates of development and the effect of thermal extremes on offspring fitness in a cold‐climate viviparous lizard

Luisa J. Fitzpatrick, Erik Wapstra, George D. Cunningham, Geoffrey M. While

Abstract

Populations at the climatic margins of a species’ distribution can be exposed to conditions that cause developmental stress, resulting in developmental abnormalities. Even within the thermal range of normal development, phenotypes often vary with developmental temperature (i.e., thermal phenotypic plasticity). These effects can have significant consequences for organismal fitness and, thus, population persistence. Reptiles, as ectotherms, are particularly vulnerable to thermal effects on development and are, therefore, considered to be at comparatively high risk from changing climates. Understanding the extent and direction of thermal effects on phenotypes and their fitness consequences is crucial if we are to make meaningful predictions of how populations and species will respond as climates warm. Here, we experimentally manipulated the thermal conditions experienced by females from a high‐altitude, cold‐adapted population of the viviparous skink, Niveoscincus ocellatus, to examine the consequences of thermal conditions at the margins of this population's normal temperature range. We found strong effects of thermal conditions on the development of key phenotypic traits that have implications for fitness. Specifically, we found that offspring born earlier as a result of high temperatures during gestation had increased growth over the first winter of life, but there was no effect on offspring survival, nor was there an effect of developmental temperature on the incidence of developmental abnormalities. Combined, our results suggest that advancing birth dates that result from warming climates may have positive effects in this population via increased growth.

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